When looking at how hard certain communities work to bring successful Black women down, one has to wonder what the world has against Black women being excellent.
Earlier this month, we heard the news that three young ladies from Washington D.C. were the target of a racist campaign to hack a NASA competition and steal their lead. At stake is a visit to one of NASA’s facilities.
Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner, and Bria Snell of Banneker High School had found a way to purify water contaminated with lead, and their experiment landed them among eight teams in the finals of NASA’s youth science competition. As the only Black girls to make it to the finals–and being the only all-female team to have made it that far in the contest–their social media campaign for votes immediately went viral. Their story even made the news, which got them even more supporters.
As we all know, in recent years there has been more of a push to encourage Black girls’ interest in STEM and this competition presented a chance for people to actively back young ladies in this field. The last time I viewed the voting website, the girls were well in the lead. They had outpaced their opponents by about 50 percent. That is until trolls on 4Chan decided to intervene. Something about the girls’ success must have made their fragile sense of superiority itch because a number of them launched their own campaign to cheat the girls out of the win they rightfully earned. Anyone that knows anything about 4Chan won’t be particularly surprised to learn that several anonymous users used racial slurs while talking about the girls, claiming the trio had no business in the finals.
The detractors even pushed people to vote against the D.C. teens. A few threatened to alert Trump supporters about the girls, some suggested that Black people were only voting for their team because they are Black, and others created a hack to push an all-male team ahead in the polls. Their schemes forced NASA to shut down the public voting portion of the competition early and move on to the internal evaluation.
This is just the latest and most public example of how uncomfortable Black Girl Magic makes bigots with nothing better to do. Black Girl Magic isn’t just about our achievements, it’s about our very existence. When we dare to celebrate who we are, our character, our beauty, our intelligence–or when anyone outside of our community dares to do so–the world gets big mad. When we use our voice for any purpose–as is our right–we’re silenced or discredited. If we dare to run to the head of the pack, it seems like there is always someone waiting to trip us up or yank us back because they can’t fathom how a Black woman could be better than them at anything.
But in this particular case, a website full of bigots were so bothered by the possibility of three high school girls winning a science contest that they thought up multiple ways to bring down their numbers. The fact that three Black girls had come up with something so clever and so helpful that it might get them a visit to NASA made a group of 4Chan users (some of whom are adults) short circuit. Actual man-hours went into thinking up ways to sabotage a youth science competition because racists couldn’t stand the idea of three Black girls winning a field trip. Not a scholarship, not a job or internship, a field trip. That’s what this comes down to in the end. I would like to say that it does not get pettier than this, but we all know that that is not true.
Black women know that we are working with a different set of rules, professionally speaking. We can be more qualified, more talented, more knowledgeable, and yet we are seen as least deserving of the fruits of our labor. It’s almost always incumbent upon us to work a little longer or harder than our contemporaries so that our achievements are recognized as something we actually earned instead of something that was just handed to us. We all know the Black parental admonition that “you have to work twice as hard to get half of what they have.” By that math, we’d damn near have to kill ourselves to get what they do. But who wants to end up an early grave just to get what you have earned several times over?
Of course, unfounded assumptions aren’t really our responsibility to manage. However, we do feel the brunt of them. Every time one of us does something remarkable, it’s met with a wave of hate-fueled insecurities. Who can forget Pamela Ramsey Taylor? She’s the West Virginia director of a non-profit group who lost her job because she called our regal former First Lady Michelle Obama an “ape in heels” while having the nerve to look like Ursula the Sea Witch’s less attractive cousin. There was also the cartoonist who compared Michelle to Melania Trump, suggesting that Michelle is a man. Michelle’s femininity was attacked throughout President Barack Obama’s entire time in the White House. As an Ivy League graduate and a lawyer, they knew they couldn’t go after Michelle’s intelligence, but they took every shot at her appearance.
There was also the time that John McEnroe said tennis player Serena Williams, who had just earned a Golden Slam, would only “be like 700 in the world” if she played on a men’s Tennis tour instead of the women’s tour. There was no need to comment about how Serena would stack up against men because she’s a woman who competes against women, and she’s the best at it. She and her sister Venus put in the hard work to be the best in the game, and it took forever for them to be ranked #1, even when their scores were better than other players. Despite the fact that Serena is so good at tennis that she won The Australian Open while she was pregnant, she’s still not earning top dollar in her endorsements. How does that work?
Or what about when Olympic Gold Medal gymnast Gabby Douglas didn’t put her hand over heart for The National Anthem at the 2016 Summer Olympics? She was called everything from ungrateful and undeserving to bratty and a variety of racial epithets.
When it was announced that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were getting married, her haters immediately began to question his taste in women. There were suggestions that she wasn’t good enough for him because she’s a divorcee, totally ignoring the fact that his father also married the divorcee who had once been his mistress in his first marriage. Even though Meghan’s a philanthropist who is effectively stepping away from her acting career just to be with Harry, estranged members of her family that could not have cared less about her two years ago are now doing their best to call her character into question. Her critics are running with that because, as many of them claim, they never liked her from the moment their relationship went public (as if their Twitter opinions and Facebook comments ever mattered).
This isn’t just about race, though. This fear of Black Girl Magic is also deeply steeped in gender politics. In Africa, women and girls are discouraged from getting an education in areas surrounding bases of operation for Boko Haram. These extremists are so offended by the education Black women that they will kidnap girls just to keep them away from school–only returning them on the condition that these girls are never educated.
I could go on, but there are too many more examples to mention. What is it about Black women getting on an even playing field that seems to bother people so much? Could it have anything to do with the unspoken, over-imposed gender and racial hierarchies that we’ve all lived under forever? We know that Patriarchy places men at the top of the social food chain. Adding institutional and systemic racism, which has given birth to almost virulent anti-blackness all over the world, we begin to get an idea of the mainstream attitude towards Black women. It’s misygnoir, and Black Girl Magic challenges everything that it’s founded on.
In the mind of a bigot or a sexist, they simply can’t compute that someone who sits at the intersection of these supposedly undesirable identities–being Black and being a woman–has the ability to be great. They can’t see how we even find enough wonderful things about ourselves to celebrate all that we are. It doesn’t make sense to them that we are just smart and capable as them, if not more so in many cases.
Black Girl Magic dismisses the ideology that we are less because of our identities. I see how that could be scary to people who believe they are better than us simply because they are White (or at least closer to White than we are) and male. Black Girl Magic ignores the barriers that are placed upon us, and it allows Black women to be unashamed about being the best version of themselves. It gives us license to no longer put ourselves in the backseat by default or habit. That means competition is about to get stiff because Black women are getting a few steps closer to the even starting line in the race of life.
Perhaps the world isn’t threatened by Black Girl Magic, but there are enough insecure people in it to make it feel that way. If I were a mediocre member of the mainstream, I could see how Black Girl Magic is something to be afraid of. But, it will have to continue being their problem because we shouldn’t have to diminish ourselves to make everyone else feel better.